Hans Christian Anderson famously said, “Where words fail, music speaks.” Music serves as the perfect lingua franca for international volunteers. For example, you might be shaky in Spanish, the locals might know next to no English, but you can both speak AC/DiCe! Volunteering abroad in music programs is the ultimate exercise in cultural exchange. Not only will you be bringing the gift of music to underprivileged communities, you’ll also have the opportunity to learn about music in a completely new cultural context.
Why Volunteer Abroad in Music
You don’t have to necessarily understand the lyrics to enjoy the song, or to feel its power. Never is a reality more certain than when you expose yourself (and more importantly your ears) to the foreign songs and sounds that provide the soundtrack to your travels. By having a more meaningful involvement in the music scene abroad, you will not only garner a new appreciation for world music, but you will also enjoy sharing in the primal, often emotional language of melodies with strangers (who will become new friends).
Songs serve to unify communities and can inspire some to take action; it’s no surprise some songs have become “anthems” for certain populations. If you look at music as a reflection of contemporary society and culture, then the harmonies and beats of new destination will be your gateway to understanding it on a deeper level.
You can rub elbows with fellow ethnomusicologists in the making, discover new talent, conduct your own cultural study of music, get new tunes stuck in your head, and support minority groups and native populations while volunteering on music projects abroad.
Across the globe, music is as different as each individual country and culture, so the opportunities to contribute to music education are equally varied. Simply spin your globe (or pick a spot on Google maps) and point, and there will be a way for you to volunteer in music there.
Africa. You can’t exactly generalize an entire continent or region, let alone Africa. With 54 countries to choose from, each moving to the beat of their own drum, the music volunteer opportunities in Africa are endless. Popular countries for volunteering in music include Senegal, Kenya, and South Africa. As an aspiring musician or music educator, any opportunity to teach new techniques and learn from unique musical traditions of a country, tribe, or culture, should not be passed up.
Latin America. Music in Central America and South America is about more than just the cha-cha. Like Africa, it’s impossible to generalize this region, because every one of its 20 countries has its own rhythm. Many opportunities to volunteer in music education take place in Bolivia, Belize, Costa Rica, and Ecuador. Not only will you teach the basics of reading sheet music and playing instruments, you’ll participate in enriching cultural exchange with locals while learning their traditional music. Volunteers can cumbia in Bolivia, bolero in Costa Rica, and mestizo in Ecuador.
Southeast Asia. Music reflects life in each of Southeast Asia’s 11 countries. This region is much more than its famous (and delicious) noodles and curries. Popular music volunteer projects exist in Cambodia, Thailand, and the Philippines. Volunteering in music in Asia will give volunteers the opportunity to learn about each country’s unique culture and history through their musical traditions, while making a difference in local schools that lack available resources for comprehensive music and fine arts education.
Music Projects Abroad
Most volunteer opportunities abroad related to music are centered around music education. Whether you work directly with local institutions, like orphanages and schools, or with an NGO to provide workshops and extracurricular opportunities, your main goal will be to provide exposure to music and a creative outlet for students, and often at-risk populations.
Music volunteering is most common in orphanages around the world. Music in this setting has the purpose of promoting healing and creating relationships with children. It’s important to note that not all of children in orphanages are parentless, however they all are in need of love, empowerment, and a creative outlet. Volunteers will be able to build and foster relationships through music education.
NGOs also frequently welcome music volunteers. Volunteers in these organization will assist staff in conducting music workshops and studies most often. However, beyond this work they will have the privilege of guiding students through classes and daily schedules. Volunteering in music through NGOs will also expose volunteers to the challenges and benefits of NGO work, making it perfect for those considering a career in the field. NGO volunteer work is ideal for those looking to commit to around six months of volunteer work generally.
Whether you’re working in a school or leading summer music sessions at a local community center, you’ll likely have the opportunity to teach music classes to students and other individuals who are considered part of at risks populations, like the visually or hearing impaired. Since many schools don’t have the resources to offer music classes, music volunteers are a vital part of children’s access to music education, exposing them to new techniques and creative thinking, and providing a creative outlet for students to express themselves.
Experience with one or more instruments and a basic understanding of music theory is necessary for most volunteers looking to participate in music projects abroad; but more than anything, volunteers need to have a passion for music and for helping underserved communities around the world.
Benefits & Challenges
Music professionals who volunteer abroad will find that they will experience music in a whole new light. No matter where individuals decide to donate their time, volunteers will quickly be exposed to an entirely new music culture. Each village and city consists of their own sound, instruments, and expression. As a musician this will promote diversity in composition, a passion for new sounds and new artists, and a desire to expand your own abilities.
Locals thoroughly enjoying sharing their love of music with volunteers. As an aspiring musician, this opportunity will develop your own repertoire too. Few musicians have the opportunity to work at such an intimate level with foreign music. Volunteering abroad in music allows foreigners to learn unique genres and instruments for themselves, from locals. This type of experience goes far beyond textbooks and makes musicians significantly more marketable.
It is known today that musicians and entertainers have a great deal of influence in society. Their pieces open eyes, develop awareness, and spark movements. Music volunteering abroad forever changes musicians. While in the field, music volunteers will experience some of the world’s greatest needs and areas of crisis. When back in their home country, they will have the incredibly chance to share their knowledge with their audience and essentially become a more well rounded citizen and musician.
Music volunteering abroad doesn’t come without its own challenges. Most music volunteer programs are based in developing, underserved countries around the world, and volunteers may find themselves missing the comforts of home. But what’s warm water and consistent wifi when you have music to keep your heart warm and feeling connected with your community?
Facing challenges is just part of life as an international volunteer, and with far more benefits than challenges, nothing should hold you back. Simply consider each challenge you face as a dissonant chord in the grand symphony of your international volunteer experience.